It has been said that poker is the hardest way to make an easy living. The one thing we can say for sure is that its a lot harder to make a living at it in a state with limited options for plying your trade.
That means if you want to play poker for a living you’re probably going to want to do it in a state with a lot of casinos or legal cardrooms. Playing in underground games every day may sound like a thrilling lifestyle. However, it’s a tough one to maintain when your bankroll is constantly under threat from local law enforcement and opportunistic thieves.
Essentially, what we’re saying is the best states to try to make a living playing poker are the ones with the most action. Legal, regulated and above board action – both in live poker rooms and, in some, a growing number of real-money online poker rooms.
Want to know where they are? Check out US Poker’s list of the five best states to make a living playing poker below:
There’s no better place for a poker pro to call home than the state of Nevada. Probably because if you fall down just about anywhere inside the state, you’re a favorite to hit a poker room on the way to the ground.
In fact, there are more than 60 poker rooms operating across the state, which is probably six times more than the amount required to make a state a decent place to make a living playing poker.
Of course, the biggest and best action goes off on the Las Vegas Strip, where there are 18 different poker rooms hosting big-time cash game action and daily tournament schedules all within a few miles of one another.
The World Series of Poker
Big-time tournament action comes in the form of the annual World Series of Poker held in Las Vegas for six weeks every June and July. Thousands of poker players from all over the world descend upon Las Vegas for the events of the WSOP. However, it’s more than just the tournaments they come for. Cash game revenues at rooms across the state jump big time throughout the WSOP.
It’s a poker pro’s dream for six weeks. In fact, there’s so much poker money in Las Vegas during this time, whether they are playing cash games or tournaments, the WSOP can make or break a Nevada-based pro’s year.
The rest of the year brings a steady stream of big-time tournaments including regular World Poker Tour stops. Plus, as the gambling capital of the country, there’s always a good number of tourists filling the cash game tables from Las Vegas to Reno and Lake Tahoe.
There’s also legal and regulated online poker in Nevada. The action is heaviest at WSOP.com during the WSOP but more consistent year-round action is becoming the norm.
Regardless, Nevada is far and away the best state to make a living playing poker. The only issue might be that so many pros have moved there, the competition can be pretty stiff at times.
The casino business in Atlantic City has had its share of ups and downs over the years. However, the seaside resort town has long maintained its status as the home of poker on the East Coast. Casinos became legal in the late 1970s, but poker didn’t get the thumbs up from lawmakers until the summer of 1993.
The Trump Taj Mahal launched a 50-table poker room that year that immediately became the center of the poker universe. There were other rooms, but no one really emerged as real competition until the Tropicana opened up a 40-table poker room in 1998. It was a pretty fierce rivalry between the two.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
In fact, it was all about either the Taj or the Trop for poker players in AC until 2003, when Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened up in the city’s marina district.
The Borgata opened with a modern 34-table poker room that immediately became market leaders. A big boom in poker’s popularity soon followed. Suddenly, Borgata established itself as the East Coast’s premier poker destination.
The property started hosting events on the burgeoning World Poker Tour right from the outset. Its WPT events are still breaking tour entry records on a regular basis.
In 2006, poker’s popularity peaked and Borgata underwent a $200 million expansion. The poker room was expanded to 85 tables and revenues kept on rising, even as the growth of the game slowed.
The Taj has since closed and poker at the Trop moved to a much smaller space. However, there are other poker rooms around Atlantic City with action, and certainly plenty of it at Borgata to this day.
When it comes to major tournaments, the WPT is still huge at Borgata and the property runs seasonal festivals that draw big numbers with or without the WPT’s name on the marquee. Plus, Harrah’s Atlantic City has emerged as a regular stop on the WSOP Circuit.
The state also opened up a legal and regulated NJ online poker market in 2013, with major operators like PokerStars, partypoker and 888poker opening shop to offer real-money games. New Jersey also sign on to share player pools with other states in 2017, so it should only grow from here.
Put it all together and New Jersey is clearly one of the best states to make a living playing poker.
Pennsylvania is one of the more recent entries into the casino gambling game. Slot machines were legalized in 2004. Table games, including poker, were legalized in 2010. Then, in just the first three years of full casino operations, Pennsylvania surpassed New Jersey as the country’s second most profitable gaming market.
There are now over a dozen casinos in Pennsylvania (including multiple PA online casinos) and 10 of them have poker rooms. In fact, poker has become quickly become a big part of what several casinos are doing to bring people in.
Parx Casino has long been the poker room revenue leader in the state. It had an 80-table poker room that hosted a ton of cash-game action, daily tournaments, and the popular Big Stax tournament series five times annually.
Now it has moved poker into a sleek and modern 48-table room inside the main building. Nothing about the amount of action at Parx should change, and to be honest, there’s probably enough of it at Parx alone to make PA one of the best states to make a living playing poker.
However, there’s more.
Sands Bethlehem’s 30-table poker room also hosts a big cash game scene and the somewhat regular DeepStack Extravaganza tournament series. Harrah’s Philadelphia has a room affiliated with the World Series of Poker, which means WSOP Main Event satellites.
Plus, The Poker Night in America Poker Room at SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia has all kinds of action and is affiliated with the “Poker Night in America” TV show, regularly hosting televised events.
The 30-table room at Rivers in Pittsburgh shares the same affiliation. Plus, the Pittsburgh-area’s Meadows Casino started hosting a Heartland Poker Tour stop in 2017.
Additionally, there’s a ton of great cash game promotions at the other smaller rooms across the state. Put that together with all the big time tournament action, plus the fact PA now has legal real-money online poker, (beginning with PokerStars PA and set to include partypoker PA, and more) and there’s little doubt Pennsylvania is the kind of place a pro can make a living now and for years to come.
There are more than 90 licensed card rooms that offer poker in California. They also offer player-banked versions of certain casino card games like blackjack. Additionally, there are somewhere around 60 Tribal casinos in the state, many of which host poker rooms.
Between the card rooms and Tribal casino poker rooms, there’s probably more action in California than there is in any other state across the country. The only thing that makes it a step below Nevada is most of that action is spread out across the state, instead of in one small area like Las Vegas.
Commerce and the Bike
However, the Los Angeles area does host two of the largest poker rooms in the world in the Bicycle Casino and Commerce Casino. The amount of cash game action in either of these cardrooms is enough for the average pro to make a sustainable living.
Plus, the World Poker Tour makes annual stops at both properties, if tournaments are where you’re looking to make big bank.
Getting lawmakers, cardrooms, Tribal casinos and potential California online poker sites to agree on what legal and regulated online poker should look like in California has proved difficult. In fact, after a decade discussing it, the state seems no closer to passing online poker legislation than when those discussions started.
However, there’s a lot of big-time live tournament and cash game action up and down the coast all year long. And that’s enough to make California one the best states to make a living playing poker.
It wasn’t that long ago that poker in Florida was limited to home games at seniors centers and not much else. The game spread to dog tracks and Jai alai frontons in 1997. However, a $10 maximum on all pots rendered the game unrecognizable by today’s standards. The laws changed a couple times in the early 2000s, but the betting limits, limits on the number of bets and a $100 maximum buy-in still didn’t make any sense.
Poker soon spread to the state’s first tribal casinos. However, except for a brief period of time where the tribes allowed multiple rebuys to skirt around the maximum buy-in laws, the poker scene in the Sunshine State remained small.
Most of the caps were removed in 2009 and Florida suddenly became a destination for poker.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood
A big-time tournament scene emerged, particularly down south at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, which put up some major guarantees to attract players. There were overlays at first, but the Hard Rock in Hollywood now boasts some of the most well-attended tournament series in the country. The World Poker Tour and The World Series of Poker Circuit have even made it a regular stop.
The cash game scene has also thrived, from Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale. Atlantic City and Las Vegas may have the market cornered on check-raising tourists. However, there’s no better place to get called down by a wealthy retiree who just had to see it than Florida.
Add it up and for pro players who want to play lucrative cash games year round and major tournaments on a regular basis, Florida has become one of the best states to make a living playing poker – even if it may be a year or two until legal online poker comes to FLA.
Honorable mention has to go to a state like New York. The New York poker scene used to be all about underground cash games in New York City and underage tournaments at Tribal casinos upstate. However, the state has seen four new commercial casinos open up over the past year and they all have poker action.
Connecticut deserves some love on this list as well. The rooms at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have enough cash game action to sustain the average pro and they host some big tournaments as well.
Finally, a shout out goes to the District of Columbia. Folks from the capital region used to have drive three hours or take the train to Atlantic City to play poker. Now, there’s an emerging poker scene including more than 100 tables at Maryland Live!, Horseshoe Baltimore, and the MGM just outside of DC.